Alexandra Yurievna ("Sasha") Aikhenvald (Heichenwald) (born September 1, 1957 in Moscow, Russian SFSR) is a linguist specialising in Linguistic typology and the Arawak language family (including Tariana) of Brazilian Amazonia.
Alexandra Aikhenvald was born in an assimilated (Russian-speaking) Jewish family in Moscow. She was fascinated by languages from early childhood, picking up some Spanish from her parents' Spanish flatmate, and dreaming of majoring in Latin and Classical studies in university. A friend taught her German during her high school years, and she also mastered French. Her Jewish surname created many difficulties for her in her pursuit of formal studies within the Soviet system. In an interview on an ABC program she commented:' ‘Jews will always remain second-class citizens in Russia, no matter how hard they work.’
Alexandra Aikhenvald earned her undergraduate degree from Moscow State University, with a thesis on Anatolian languages (Hittite). She also studied Sanskrit, Akkadian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Hungarian, Arabic, Italian and Ancient Greek, Outside of her classes, she learned Estonian and Hebrew. After graduation, she joined the research staff of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences, where she earned her Cand. Sc. degree (Soviet equivalent of Ph.D.) in 1984 with a thesis on the "Structural and Typological Classification of Berber Languages" (1984). She published the first Russian grammar of modern Hebrew in 1985. She also mastered Yiddish, the language of her grandparents, which was, however, never spoken at home.
In 1989-1992, Dr. Aikhenvald did research work in Brazil, where she mastered Portuguese, and learnt five Brazilian Indian languages, and wrote a grammar of Tariana. In 1993 she started her work in Australia - first at Australian National University, later at La Trobe University.
In 1996, the expert on Australian aboriginal languages R. M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Aikhenvald established the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology at Australian National University in Canberra. On January 1, 2000, the center relocated to La Trobe University in Melbourne. Dixon and Aikhenvald both resigned in May 2008. In January 2009, she became a professor at the James Cook University, where she and R. M. W. Dixon founded The Language and Culture Research Group.
Alexandra Aikhenvald has published work on Berber languages, Modern and Classical Hebrew, Ndu languages (specifically Eastern Sepik of the East Sepik Province of Papua-New Guinea), alongside a number of articles and monographs on various aspects of linguistic typology.
She has extensively worked on language contact, with particular attention to the multilingual area of the Vaupés River Basin. She has established a comprehensive typology of classifiers and worked out major parameters for the typology of evidentials as grammatical markers of information sources. In addition, she authored a comprehensive grammar of Warekena and of Tariana, both Arawak languages, in addition to a lengthy Tariana–Portuguese dictionary (available on-line).
- Dr. Aikhenvald's CV (at JCU site; accessed 20 December 2009)
- "Me and other languages" - A.Y. Aikhenvald's interview with ABC Radio National, 9 February 2008
- Research Centre for Linguistic Typology: Ten Years' Achievements (2006)
- RCLT Newsletter, 2009
- Alexandra Aikhenvald [The Manambu Language of East Sepik, Papua New Guinea] Oxford University Press, 2008 p.xvi.
- Maria Zijlstra (ed.) 'Me & other languages,''RN summer series, part 1: 9 February 2008:'When I travelled to New Guinea, I had to learn Tok Pisin -- the major language of Papua New Guinea, a really delightful enterprise. Manambu is my other favourite language, in which I dream every so often.'
- Language contact and language change in Amazonia By Alexandra Aikhenvald, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-19-925785-X
- Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald,Classifiers: A Typology of Noun Categorization Devices, Oxford University Press, 2000, pb. 2003, ISBN 0-19-926466-X
- Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, Evidentiality Oxford University Press 2004, pd. 2006, ISBN 0-19-926388-4
- A.Y. Aikhenvald's page at JCU; contains a link to the CV
- Sasha (Alexandra) Aikhenvald's Linguistics Research - Dr. Aikhenvald's own site
- For want of a word - New Scientist magazine interview
- Telling the Truth in Tariana - ABC radio documentary transcript